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It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas! And the time left is beginning to look a lot like zip.

Fear not, as the angels told the shepherds. We might be down to a matter of hours before the big day, but that doesn't mean there's no time to get into the holiday spirit or just take a breather. Now, come to think of it, is the best time. Office parties are over, gifts are bought, cards are sent.

Stop for a second. Stick a candy cane in your mouth. Relax. Then check out this list of possibilities.

>> Going out

5 p.m. today: Time to finish your shopping and have a sip o'something while you're at it. Tonight is "Home For The Holidays on Hertel." Stores are open until 9 p.m. and you can shop as God intended, in a party atmosphere, with candy, spirits, free gift wrapping and/or whatever else purveyors put out to tempt you.

8 p.m. today: The Scintas return from Las Vegas to perform a Christmas show in the Riviera Theatre (67 Webster St., North Tonawanda). Tickets are $35-$55. 692-2413.

9:30 p.m. today: The End of the World Party with Family Funktion and the Sitar Jams, Space Junk, Big Mean Sound Machine and Smackdab in Nietzsche's (248 Allen St.). The Mayan calendar suggests our collective number is up tonight at midnight. Meet your fate while getting your groove on with a collection of funky, dancey, trippy psychedelic bands at Nietzsche's!

10 p.m. today: The Irving Klaws End of the World CD Release Party, with the Stripteasers in Mohawk Place (47 E. Mohawk St.). The Irving Klaws will sneak in the release of its brand spankin' new disc just under the apocalyptic deadline. Opener the Stripteasers will bring the burlesque to ease your end-of-the-world blues.

2 p.m. Saturday: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia i Szczesliwego Nowego Roku! That is Gusto showing off our Christmas Polish. Head to iconic Arty's Grill (508 Peckham) for Polish carols, live polka music by the Buffalo Touch, waitresses who call you "honey" and, speaking of honey, a snifter or two of heavenly Krupnik. Get ready to sing along, and if you play an instrument, bring it.

7 p.m. Saturday: Party like it's 1729! Old Fort Niagara invites you to "Castle By Candlelight," and we suggest you say yes. Where else will you find a grand feu de joie (artillery firing of joy)? Also enjoy tales and music and learn how to prepare a fantastic feast, including yummy wild game. The castle will be lighted entirely by candles. $8 at the door. Arrive at the fort's visitor center any time between 7 and 8:30 p.m., wear walking footwear, and bring a flashlight. 745-7611.

8 p.m. Saturday: The 11th Hour: A Tribute to Joe Strummer in Mohawk Place. Should the world fail to end, the faithful will gather to take a knee before the memory of the mighty Joe Strummer, leader of the Clash and the Mescaleros, and the most significant political and social commentator to have emerged from the first wave of British punk rock. Every year, this multiband get-together is a must-see event.

9 p.m. Saturday: Movement Dance Party in Ujima's TheatreLoft (545 Elmwood Ave.). Buffalo's arts and activism communities will converge for an evening of music and holiday revelry. Dubbed "Movement," the event will feature popular Buffalo DJs Lopro and Cutler, singers Zoe Scruggs and Ali Critelli and Washington-based DJDub. Admission is $5 (brownpapertickets.com or at the door).

3 p.m. Sunday: It's ancient tradition but it is always fresh and new. A Festival of Lessons and Carols, sung by the Choirs of Men and Girls, takes place at St. Paul's Cathedral (128 Pearl St.). 855-0900.

8 p.m. Monday: A concert of Mozart, Beethoven and Telemann? Featuring a 30-piece orchestra led by Paul Ferington, frequent guest conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra? And talked-about musicians including violinists Robert and Megan Prokes and Alex Boissonnault, oboist Paul Schlossman, and cellists Katie Weissman and Christopher Rogerson? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. The concert which culminates in Randol Bass' "Feast of Carols" takes place at historic Williamsville United Methodist Church, which dates to 1847. Stay for a cookie reception afterward and stay even longer, if you like, for the 10 p.m. candlelight service. The concert also features the church's esteemed Chancel Choir.

9 p.m. Tuesday: "A Christmas Carol" has nothing on A Snooty Christmas, the party on Christmas evening at the Snooty Fox Lounge (445 Delaware Ave.). There will be cocktails, music and, we imagine, good snooty company. 843-3699.

6 p.m. Wednesday: That ugly sweater Santa left you could mean riches! Wear it to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party at the Shannon Pub (2250 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda). There's a prize for the ugliest sweater, plus happy hour pricing, munchies and the big and bonnie St. Vincent de Paul Christmas Dinner Fund Raiser. 743-9348.

Mary Kunz Goldman, Jeff Miers, Colin Dabkowski

>> Staying in

But, baby, it's cold outside! If you stay in, may we make a few suggestions.

Nothing puts me in the holiday mood faster than hearing Andy Williams sing "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." The joyful tune is on his classic Christmas album or, if you want variety, get it on the crowd-pleasing "Croon & Swoon" disc that also has Rosemary Clooney (above) singing "White Christmas," Angela Lansbury with a rousing "We Need a Little Christmas," Tony Bennett swinging on "My Favorite Things" and Judy Garland's plaintive "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." For a modern touch, Josh Groban's "Noel" disc is gorgeous. My favorite holiday song at the moment is the Cary Brothers' wistful version of the glorious "O Holy Night" that was used in a particularly unexpected and brilliant way on last week's episode of "The Vampire Diaries." Get it on iTunes (99 cents).

Toni Ruberto

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Carols 'round the piano. If you don't have a piano, buy one. If you don't have a little book of carols somewhere you can download easy sheet music from the Internet. One site to start with: www.christmas-carol-music.org.

Listen to vinyl. There's nothing like vinyl this time of year. My favorites: The Firestone Christmas records featuring singers like Gordon MacRae, Julie Andrews (above), Roberta Peters and Richard Tucker. "Christmas on the Rhine," German carols complete with bells and a children's chorus. The glorious, glistening Capitol Records Christmas album, with imaginative, silver-screen arrangements by Carmen Dragon, conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony. All these records are readily available at any thrift shop.

Read out loud. A surprisingly rewarding Victorian pastime. Suggestions: The Gospel of Luke. Or my childhood favorite: Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales." A Hobbit-loving kid might get a kick out of "Letters From Father Christmas," by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Mary Kunz Goldman

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Being Irish, I tend to get a little misty-eyed around the holidays. Nothing like lighting a fire, inviting a few friends over for a Guinness and cranking up holiday-themed tunes. It's a tradition for me to play Harry Belafonte's (above) "To Wish You A Merry Christmas" at a healthy volume, because my parents had the record when I was a wee brat, and we'd play it every year. It's beautiful stuff, and close to my heart. The Phil Spector Christmas collection is pretty amazing as well. Of course, Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the go-to holiday jazz disc. I also get a huge kick out of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford's uber-metal take on "We Three Kings," which you can find on iTunes, alongside Cee Lo Green's hilarious and giddy new "Cee Lo's Magic Moment." Bootsy Collins' "Christmas Is 4 Ever" is super funky and groove-alicious, too. And finally, there's the king of all kings James Brown's "Funky Christmas." Wouldn't be the holidays without it!

Jeff Miers

>> WATCH A MOVIE

Looking for a movie to watch at home? Start with the Top 5 evergreens: "A Charlie Brown Christmas," "A Christmas Carol" (any version), "A Christmas Story," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "White Christmas." Every family should own these, but if you don't, they all have multiple viewings over the holiday season. Then check out these staff picks.

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"Holiday Affair" (1950). For something different on a cold winter's night, I never fail to look forward to "Holiday Affair" a post-World War II RKO picture in which Janet Leigh plays Connie Ennis, a war-widowed young mother trying to fulfill her son Timmy's Christmas dreams of a fancy new train set, while deciding whether to marry her steady, sensible beau (Wendell Corey).

The plot is complicated by the arrival of Robert Mitchum, a drifter-type who presents Connie with a less-predictable, but more thrilling, future, all the while uttering classic lines like this: "I want a girl that'll drop everything and run to me, no matter what the score is."

Watch Timmy pine over his train set. Watch the interior scenes of 1940s department stores, shot in glowing black and white. Watch Leigh make up her mind, including at a memorable dinner party scene. It never fails.

Airing at 3 p.m. Monday on Turner Classic Movies.

Charity Vogel

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"A Child's Christmas in Wales" (1987). I can summon up the avuncular, sing-song voice of Denholm Elliott at a moment's notice, so often have I watched this gauzy TV version of Dylan Thomas' nostalgic prose poem about a Christmas long past.

Elliott's reading of the beloved piece strikes me as much more fun to listen to than the stern delivery of the poet, or other recordings by the likes of Richard Burton. Something about the way he ticks off all the "useless presents" from aunts and uncles and explains that he can never quite remember "whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six," has a ring of genuine joy about it.

The conceit of the film, in which an old man (Elliott) tells his grandson a bedtime story on Christmas Eve while we watch his vividly reconstructed memories play out on screen, is the perfectly sentimental treatment for a sentimental poem. Elliott is the best of a fine cast.

Find it on eBay or secondhand on Amazon if you can. It's well worth tracking down.

Colin Dabkowski

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"The Christmas Card" (2006). On the surface, this made-for-TV movie sounds schmaltzy: A soldier (John Newton) receives a holiday card from a woman he's never met (the aptly named Faith, played by Alice Evans), and is inspired to travel to her picturesque small town to meet her. Once there, he's welcomed with open arms by her family and, as to be expected, falls in love with the engaged Faith.

Sentimental, yes. But it's become one of my favorites and remains the Hallmark Channel's highest rated original movie. This warm-hearted film benefits from a comforting story, Ed Asner in his Emmy-nominated role as Faith's wise, gentle father and the picture-perfect setting of Nevada City, Calif.

Airing at 8 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday on Hallmark.

Toni Ruberto An action-packed Dec. 26. It was a gentile woman who introduced this man from another religious tradition to the joys of going to the movies the day after Christmas.

Her philosophy? Christmas is over. All the food has been eaten, all the presents have been unwrapped. Everybody's exhausted. At the very least, everyone's sick of all the enforced celebration of the season to which I'd add all the immense pressure people put on themselves during holiday season.

So let's call Dec. 26 "Behaving Badly Day." Nothing is more satisfying on Dec. 26 than going to the movies and seeing something where people are beating the stuffing out of each other, for reasons either good or bad. "Django Unchained" anybody? "Jack Reacher," which seems to me close to an ideal Dec. 26 movie? See the review on Page 9.

Jeff Simon